The recent announcement by the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) that the State Department has cleared an Australian request to buy M1A1 Abrams hulls for conversion to the latest standard of the main battle tank appears to represent a significant shift in Defence’s plans for the Australian Abrams fleet, upending long-held plans to upgrade the vehicles currently operated by the Army.

The notification published on the 30th of April clears Australia to buy a total of 160 hulls which will see Australia end up with 122 vehicles based on the Abrams chassis, of which 75 will be M1A2 System Enhancement Package version 3 (SEPv3) main battle tanks and the rest assorted vehicles in the form of assault breachers, bridgelayers and recovery vehicles.

The estimated cost of the request is US$1.685 billion (AUD$2.15 billion), and will also include 122 AGT1500 gas turbine engines to power the fleet. Also included in the package is the development of a unique armour package, Kongsberg’s Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station Low Profile (CROWS-LP), Driver’s Vision Enhancer, mission equipment, and assorted spares and support. The principal contractors will be General Dynamics Land Systems in the U.S.

The bit in the DSCA notification that caught the eye was that the “M1A2 SEPv3 Main Battle Tanks will upgrade the current Australian fleet of M1A1 SA tanks with no changes to Royal Australian Armoured Corps force structure”, suggesting that these vehicles will replace the Army’s fleet of M1A1 SA tanks instead of adding to the Army’s tank force. APDR has reached out to Defence for clarification on this, but has yet to receive a reply at press time.

The Australian Army’s current main battle tank is the U.S. M1A1SA Abrams originally designed by Chrysler Defense (now General Dynamics Land Systems). In 2006, Australia acquired 59 M1A1 tanks in the Abrams Integrated Management (AIM) configuration, with these replacing the venerable Leopard AS1 in 2007. These 59 tanks were a hybrid of former U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps vehicles but without depleted uranium layers in armour. Under the AIM program, the tanks were completely disassembled and overhauled to a like-new, zero-mile condition, and General Dynamics said at the time would incur lower operational and support costs and report higher operational readiness rates.

Most of the Army’s Abrams tanks are currently assigned to the 1st Armoured Regiment based at the Edinburgh Defence Precinct in South Australia, having moved from Robertson Barracks near Darwin in 2017. Vehicles for training purposes are also held by the School of Armour in Puckapunyal and the Army Logistic Training Centre at Bandiana, both in Victoria.

The decision to upgrade the tanks was initially cemented in the 2016 Defence White Paper and its accompanying Integrated Investment Plan, with then Chief of Army Lieutenant-General (now General and Chief of Defence Force) Angus Campbell stating that the Australian army was looking to upgrade the M1A1 fleet to the M1A2C (the previous designation of the SEPv3) standard under LAND 907 Phase 2…

To read the complete story in APDR, click here.


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